Friday, May 27, 2011

Wherein a White House national security advisor blunders more than Herman Cain

Last week people criticized Herman Cain for going on a Sunday talk show the weekend after Obama's Mideast speech and not knowing what the "right of return" referred to. I thought it demonstrated his lack of preparation for the White House. He may give a great speech and come off well in debates, but being president involves so much more. President Obama's blunders have demonstrated why it is so important to have someone who has some experience running something in government as well as the ability to choose advisers who will help him get up to speed on contentious issues. At least Cain had the grace to acknowledge that he didn't understand the issue. Obama doesn't make those sorts of acknowledgments of his own errors.

But forget Herman Cain's mistake. The White House deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes has made a much more worrisome blunder. And he is someone who is supposed to know about these issues.

Alana Goodman of Commentary Magazine
makes the catch from this story in Foreign Policy Magazine.
Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for communications and President Barack Obama's chief speechwriter on foreign policy, talked about what's known as the "Jewish right of return" during an off-the-record conference call with Jewish community leaders on May 20, only one day after Obama's major speech on the Middle East. A recording of the call was provided to The Cable.

In response to a question asking why there is a great deal of focus on the Palestinian refugee issue but almost no focus on the Jews who departed Arab lands, Rhodes declared that the Israelis and Palestinians should negotiate on the Jewish right of return to Arab and Muslim countries and that the United States could play in role in mediating that issue.

Here's the full exchange:

"While Palestinian refugees have concerns that are understandable and need to be dealt with in the peace process, there was no reference in the president's speech to the approximately one million Jewish refugees that emerged from the same Middle East conflict. I'm talking about Jews from Arab and Muslim countries who were forced out of their homelands where they had lived for centuries," said B'nai B'rith International Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Fusfield.

"The international community has never acknowledged their rights and their grievances," Fusfield continued, "[C]an the U.S., as the peace process move forward, play a role in advancing the rights and concerns of these Jewish refugee groups and help ensure that as refugee issues are dealt with... that the focus will not just be on one refugee group but on all refugee groups emerging from the same conflict?"

Rhodes responded: "Certainly the U.S., in our role, is attuned to all the concerns on both sides to include interests among Israel and others in Jewish refugees, so it is something that would come up in the context of negotiations. And certainly, we believe that ultimately the parties themselves should negotiate this. We can introduce ideas, we can introduce parameters for potential negotiation."

"We believe those types of issues that you alluded to could certainly be a part of that discussion and put on the table and it's something that we would obviously be involved in."
Goodman explains why the Rhodes' statement is so wrong.
There are two obvious problems with this. The first is that if the White House believes that the so-called “Jewish right of return” is on the table, then that means that they view the right of return for Palestinians as a legitimate issue that should be open to negotiation. This is wrong—the Palestinian right of return means the end of Israel’s existence. It’s not something that can be on the table.

The second problem is that the administration is clearly unaware that there are no “Jewish refugees,” thanks to the state of Israel, which took them in when they were expelled from Arab and Muslim countries. Others went to the United States and Canada. All were successfully integrated into those countries rather than kept in stateless penury like the Palestinian Arabs to be used as propaganda props. But leaving that point aside, why would the administration assume that any of these Jews would want to return to undemocratic Arab states where they were treated as second-class citizens?
Remember, this was a deliberate statement by the White House deputy national security advisor. If he is so ignorant about such a central issue in Mideast negotiations, perhaps it is not any surprise that the president he is advising would make such a mistake in his approach to the Mideast.